Saturday, May 14, 2022

Fen Country: Edmund Crispin

Edmund Crispin: The Glimpses of the Moon (1977)

"Under another name, he's a sort of male C. V. Wedgwood"
- The Glimpses of the Moon, pp. 74-75.

Between 1944 and 1955, promising young British composer Bruce Montgomery published eight detective novels and one collection of short stories under the pseudonym 'Edmund Crispin'. He also sold 38 stories to a variety of periodicals in Britain and the USA.

Most of these narratives featured the eccentric Academic Gervase Fen, Professor of English Language and Literature at the University of Oxford, as their presiding sleuth.

Edmund Crispin: Fen Country (1979)

After that there was a long silence until his final novel, The Glimpses of the Moon, appeared in 1977, the year before his death. It was followed by a further collection of short stories, Fen Country, which completed the canon.

Edmund Crispin: Swan Song (1947)

'There goes C. S. Lewis,' said Fen suddenly. 'It must be Tuesday.'
'It is Tuesday.' Sir Richard struck a match and puffed doggedly at his pipe.
- Swan Song, p.60.

Why does he interest me so? Is it the minute portrait his books convey of an austerity Britain, first in the grip of wartime rationing, then of post-war shortages? Is it the constant barrage of in-jokes, comprehensible only to those familiar with such contemporary cultural icons as C. S. Lewis and C. V. Wedgwood? Or his ornate, orotund style of writing?

"An undergrad left an essay for you. I've been reading it. It's called - Sally puckered up her attractive forehead - 'The influence of Sir Gawain on Arnold's Empedocles on Etna'."
"Good heavens," Fen groaned. "That must be Larkin: the most indefatigable searcher-out of pointless correspondences the world has ever known."
- The Moving Toyshop, pp.110-11.

As well as all that, there's the 'Movement' connection. He was up at Oxford at the same time as Kingsley Amis and Philip Larkin, and the pair were initially hugely impressed by his effortless cosmopolitan airs and (initial) success with publishers, only to become increasingly carping and bitchy about him and his work as their own social and literary prestige mounted into the stratosphere.

So, yes, there's a good deal of gossip about him and his ways to be gleaned from their respective memoirs and biographies and collections of letters. If you read that kind of thing, that is. Which I do (obviously).

Edmund Crispin: The Moving Toyshop (1946)

She talked about murder as she might have talked about the weather - being far too selfish, thick-skinned and unimaginative to see the implications either of that final, irrevocable act or of her own position.
- The Moving Toyshop, p.105.

One of things that interests me most about the Montgomery / Crispin books is Gervase Fen himself. Not that Fen is a well-developed character. On the contrary, as I read my way through the books as a teenager, I was struck by how well portrayed and accurately placed most of the other people are, and how bizarrely unfocussed is Fen. It's almost as if the more we hear about him, the less there he is. His age seems fixed around 40, regardless of what year it is, and his Academic position at Oxford remains essentially unchanged throughout.

I don't know if this was intentional or not. I've sometimes wondered if it's connected to Crispin's unusual focus on the consequences of crime. His victims are not the cardboard cut-outs of an Agatha Christie or even a Dorothy Sayers, but living, breathing people, whose brutal deaths leave a gap in the world. It's as if he can't quite bring himself ever to forget the morality of the spectacle he's creating, however frivolously it may be framed.

Edmund Crispin: Frequent Hearses (1950)

Some of my taste for his work undoubtedly comes down to a similar taste in books. M. R. James is a persistent influence on Crispin throughout: most notably in the long description of the maze in Frequent Hearses, but also in the inset ghost story in his very first novel, The Case of the Gilded Fly, and the macabre goings-on in the cathedral in Holy Disorders.

Edmund Crispin: Holy Disorders (1945)

He's also very well acquainted with the highway and byways of 17th and 18th century English poetry, which provide a good many of his titles - as well as most of the numerous epigraphs scattered through his pages.

Edmund Crispin: Love Lies Bleeding (1948)

In the last, longest and probably least focussed of his books, The Glimpses of the Moon, there's an illuminating aside by Fen, who's been forced by the insolvency of his publisher to abandon the book on modern British novelists he's been working on in a desultory manner throughout the whole narrative:
Fen pondered this; and the more he pondered it, the more he liked it. Some of the reading had been enjoyable, of course - The Doctor is Sick, I Want It Now, 'the Balkan trilogy', Elizabeth Bowen, The Ballad and the Source. But much more had not - and a great deal that was pending wasn't going to be either. [p.270]
It's typical of Crispin that this passage will mean very little to anyone unfamiliar with the fiction of this period. I can't claim to have read all of the books on his list, but I have to say that this small selection seems to me very much on the money.

Edmund Crispin: The Long Divorce (1951)

Let's see then. In strictly alphabetical order, reference is being made to:
  1. Amis, Kingsley. I Want It Now. 1968. London: Panther Books, 1969.
  2. Bowen, Elizabeth. The Collected Stories of Elizabeth Bowen. 1980. Introduction by Angus Wilson. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1983.
  3. Burgess, Anthony. The Doctor is Sick. 1960. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1979.
  4. Lehmann, Rosamond. The Ballad and the Source. London: Collins, 1944.
  5. Manning, Olivia. The Balkan Trilogy. Volume One: The Great Fortune / Volume Two: The Spoilt City / Volume Three: Friends and Heroes. 1960, 1962 & 1965. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1982.
They're not all obvious choices by any means. I haven't read the Lehmann book or much of Elizabeth Bowen beyond her short stories, but the others seem quite inspired to me.

The Doctor is Sick is one of four novels written by Anthony Burgess during his 1960 annus mirabilis, shortly after receiving a (later rescinded) sentence of death from his doctors. By far the most famous of these is A Clockwork Orange, but I'd already clocked The Doctor as by far the most entertaining of the bunch even before reading Crispin.

Kingsley Amis, too, is an author whom I've read both in bulk and in depth. I Want It Now is certainly not one of his most celebrated novels - no Lucky Jim or One Fat Englishman - but it is, again, quite exceptionally fun to read even in so impressive a line-up of hits.

As for The Balkan Trilogy, I've always been glad that this casual reference by Crispin inspired me to track it down and read it a number of times before it achieved temporary apotheosis as a TV miniseries with Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson. It is quite wonderfully moving and good, I think - far better than the follow-up, The Levant Trilogy. Nor did the TV adaptation really do it justice.

Alchetron: Edmund Crispin (1962)

I suppose that it shouldn't really come as a surprise that Crispin was so astute and pleasure-of-reading-focussed a critic. His distinguished series of anthologies of SF, crime, and horror stories did a great service to the dissemination of each of these forms on the UK literary scene, in particular. But they travelled as far as little ol' New Zealand, too.

As John Clute puts it in his magisterial Encyclopedia of Science Fiction:
Crispin's work in sf Anthologies was of great influence. When Best SF (1955) appeared it was unique in several ways: its editor was a respected literary figure; its publisher, Faber and Faber, was a prestigious one; and it made no apologies or excuses for presenting sf as a legitimate form of writing. Moreover, Crispin's selection of stories showed him to be thoroughly familiar with sf in both magazine and book form, and his introductions to this and succeeding volumes were informed and illuminating ... It would be difficult to exaggerate the importance of the early volumes in this series in working towards the establishment of sf in the UK as a respectable branch of literature.

Edmund Crispin, ed.: Best Tales of Terror (1962)

All I can add is that it was in one of his Tales of Terror anthologies that I first encountered Elizabeth Jane Howard's classic ghost story 'Three Miles Up', and for that I remain eternally grateful.

The Passing Tramp: Bruce & Ann Montgomery (1976)

Edmund Crispin

Robert Bruce Montgomery
['Edmund Crispin']



    Edmund Crispin: The Case of the Gilded Fly (1944)

  1. The Case of the Gilded Fly [US title: Obsequies at Oxford] (1944)
    • The Case of the Gilded Fly. 1944. London: Victor Gollancz Ltd., 1946.
    The wartime production of a new play in Oxford is disrupted by the murder of one of the actresses. The novel includes a set-piece recounting of a ghost story by an old Don very much in the style of M. R. James.
  2. Holy Disorders (1945)
    • Included in: The Second Gollancz Detective Omnibus: Whose Body?, by Dorothy L. Sayers / The Weight of the Evidence, by Michael Innes / Holy Disorders, by Edmund Crispin. 1923, 1943 & 1945. London: Victor Gollancz Ltd., 1952.
    A series of sinister murders by Nazis in a cathedral town are counterpointed by an old ghost legend about an organ loft.
  3. The Moving Toyshop (1946)
    • Included in: The Gollancz Detective Omnibus: The Moving Toyshop, by Edmund Crispin / Appleby’s End, by Michael Innes / Unnatural Death, by Dorothy L. Sayers. 1946, 1945 & 1927. London: Victor Gollancz Ltd., 1951.
    A Chestertonian poet goes looking for adventure, but ends up being coshed over the head in a toyshop in Oxford.
  4. Swan Song [US title: Dead and Dumb] (1947)
    • Swan Song. 1947. A Four Square Crime Book. London: The New English Library Limited, 1966.
    A postwar production of Wagner's Die Meistersinger is plagued with problems - including the suicide (or is it murder?) of one of the principal singers.
  5. Love Lies Bleeding (1948)
    • Love Lies Bleeding. 1948. Penguin Crime Fiction. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1982.
    An invitation to present prizes at a girl's school puts Fen on the trail of a Shakespearean discovery of epoch-making importance. Will Love's labours finally be won?
  6. Buried for Pleasure (1948)
    • Buried for Pleasure. 1948. Penguin Books 1292. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1958.
    Fen stands for Parliament in a rural district. Halfway through the campaign he realises he doesn't want the job.
  7. Frequent Hearses [US title: Sudden Vengeance] (1950)
    • Frequent Hearses. 1950. Penguin Crime Fiction. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1982.
    A loving tribute to the postwar British film industry - for which Bruce Montgomery composed so many scores - in the unlikely form of an abortive bio-pic about Alexander Pope.
  8. The Long Divorce [US title: A Noose for Her] (1951)
    • The Long Divorce. 1952. Penguin Books 1304. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1961.
    Someone is sending poison-pen letters in the small village where Gervase Fen is temporarily domiciled. Could something so trivial have led to murder?
  9. The Glimpses of the Moon (1977)
    • The Glimpses of the Moon. 1977. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1981.
    Fen is on sabbatical in a small Devon village plagued by a series of gruesome murders and dismemberments. A rich cast of characters are permitted to indulge their eccentricities to the utmost, until the actual murders become perhaps the least notable feature of the book.

  10. Short Story Collections:

    Edmund Crispin: Beware of the Trains (1953)

  11. Beware of the Trains (1953) [BT]
    1. Beware of the Trains
    2. Humbleby Agonistes
    3. The Drowning of Edgar Foley
    4. Lacrimae Rerum
    5. Within the Gates
    6. Abhorred Shears
    7. The Little Room
    8. Express Delivery
    9. A Pot of Paint
    10. The Quick Brown Fox
    11. Black for a Funeral
    12. The Name on the Window
    13. The Golden Mean
    14. Otherwhere
    15. The Evidence for the Crown
    16. Deadlock
    • Beware of the Trains. 1953. Penguin Classic Crime. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1987.
  12. Fen Country (1979) [FC]
    1. Who Killed Baker?
    2. Death and Aunt Fancy
    3. The Hunchback Cat
    4. The Lion's Tooth
    5. Gladstone's Candlestick
    6. The Man Who Lost His Head
    7. The Two Sisters
    8. Outrage in Stepney
    9. A Country to Sell
    10. A Case in Camera
    11. Blood Sport
    12. The Pencil
    13. Windhover Cottage
    14. The House by the River
    15. After Evensong
    16. Death Behind Bars
    17. We Know You're Busy Writing, But We Thought You Wouldn't Mind If We Just Dropped in for a Minute
    18. Cash on Delivery
    19. Shot in the Dark
    20. The Mischief Done
    21. Merry-Go-Round
    22. Occupational Risk
    23. Dog in the Night-Time
    24. Man Overboard
    25. The Undraped Torso
    26. Wolf!
    • Fen Country: Twenty-Six Stories. 1979. Penguin Crime Fiction. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1981.

  13. Edited:

    Edmund Crispin, ed.: Best SF: Science Fiction Stories (1955)

  14. Best SF (1954)
    • Best SF: Science Fiction Stories. 1954. London: Faber, 1962.
  15. Best SF 2 (1956)
    • Best SF Two: Science Fiction Stories. 1956. London: Faber, 1964.
  16. Best SF 3 (1958)
    • Best SF Three: Science Fiction Stories. 1958. London: Faber, 1963.
  17. Best SF 4 (1961)
    • Best SF Four: Science Fiction Stories. 1961. London: The Science Fiction Book Club, 1962.
  18. Best SF 5 (1963)
    • Best SF Five: Science Fiction Stories. 1963. London: Faber, 1971.
  19. Best SF 6 (1966)
  20. Best SF 7 (1970)

  21. Best Detective Stories (1959)
  22. Best Detective Stories 2 (1964)

  23. Best Tales of Terror (1962)
    • Best Tales of Terror. 1962. London: Faber, 1966.
  24. Best Tales of Terror 2 (1965)

  25. The Stars And Under: A Selection of Science Fiction (1968)
  26. Outwards From Earth: A Selection of Science Fiction (1974)

  27. Best Murder Stories (1971)
  28. Best Murder Stories 2 (1973)

  29. Secondary:

  30. Whittle, David. Bruce Montgomery / Edmund Crispin: A Life in Music and Books (Farnham, Surrey: Ashgate Publishing Group, 2007)

Edmund Crispin: Buried for Pleasure (1948)

Saturday, May 07, 2022

SF Luminaries: Orson Scott Card

Gavin Hood, dir.: Ender's Game (2013)

Back in the early nineties when I was working as an English tutor at Auckland University, I was asked to supervise a research essay by one of the undergraduates. It was on Science Fiction, so no-one else felt sufficiently qualified, I suppose.

I don't remember all that much about the project, but I do recall some very interesting discussions with my supervisee about the overall tenor of SF as a genre. There's always been a good deal of talk - mainly by the more starry-eyed writers in the field - about the 'sense of wonder' and imaginative openness encouraged by its speculative, open-ended nature.

Orson Scott Card: Maps in a Mirror (1990)

However, I'd recently been reading Orson Scott Card's short story collection Maps in a Mirror, and its general tendency seemed quite otherwise. What stood out most for me in his work was an obsessive preoccupation with violence. There was one story in particular whose protagonist was killed in the most gruesome manner, then repeatedly revived by the authorities for further executions: his crime of dissent was such that mere death was regarded as insufficient punishment.

That's not all there was to the story, mind you. Its hero was finally sent into exile as the government had failed to break his indomitable will, so there was (at least ostensibly) a 'moral' purpose to it all. But the sheer detail supplied about the various methods of execution employed by his oppressors showed a kind of sadistic glee which seemed, to say the least, a little troubling.

Frank Herbert: The Dosadi Experiment (1977)

It put me in mind of Frank Herbert's late novel The Dosadi Experiment, which extended his notions on the necessity of extreme suffering to "train the faithful" (as expounded in Dune and its sequels) to almost ridiculous extremes. The more oppression is heaped upon people, the more likely it appears to be - in Herbert's view, at any rate - that you will end up with a race of super-beings.

I'd long been aware of the quasi-fascistic tendencies of (especially) the later work of Robert Heinlein and other Campbell-era SF writers, but this seemed an even more extreme doctrine - one which operated behind the overt scaffolding of the stories to imply a more sinister agenda.

I suspect that the student I was supervising began to think that I had a real bee in my bonnet on the subject of these subliminal themes in contemporary SF. He certainly showed little patience for the subject. At the time it seemed to me a legitimate exploration of the figure in the carpet for at least a few of its principal exponents, however.

Recently I've been catching up with some of Orson Scott Card's work from the thirty years since that short story collection, which spanned only the first two decades of his career. It's been a very interesting experience. He's always been a prolific writer, as you can see from the (partial) listings below, but of late a good deal of his energy seems to have gone into comics, games, and collaborations with other writers rather than the paperback novels that made his reputation.

Orson Scott Card: The Ender Series (1985-2008)

The first, and undoubtedly the best known of his story-cycles was first known as the 'Ender's Game Trilogy', then the 'Ender's Game Quartet', and finally the 'Ender's Game Series' as successive volumes were added.

The original 1985 novel, an expansion of his 1977 Analog novella "Ender's Game", remains an SF masterpiece. The ethical dilemmas involved in training children for a war which only they can win - without telling them that that's what you're doing - remain sharply relevant to this day. And the 2013 feature film did a pretty good job of encapsulating these themes in its (inevitably) truncated form - except for Sir Ben Kingsley's "Kiwi" accent, that is, which had to be heard to be believed.

After that things got a bit more complicated. First Card decided to send his hero off on a series of relativistic hops through the universe which took him a couple of thousand years into the future; then he landed him on a planet where the literally 'inhuman' values of another alien race, the Pequeninos (or "Piggies"), led to an even more complex conflict and the threat of another Xenocide.

This new conundrum takes a good three volumes to resolve, mainly owing to the tendency of Card's characters to sit down and talk things through - at inordinate length - on a regular basis. In the process Ender gets married to a typical Card heroine: stubborn, irritable, and prone to taking perverse, self-destructive decisions whenever reason threatens to prevail. I'm not quite sure what that implies, but it does make you wonder a bit about Card's own personal experience in this area ...

Orson Scott Card: The Shadow Series (1999-2005)

But wait, there's more. Meanwhile, back on earth, the cast of the original Battle School set up to defeat the Formics (or "Buggers") are all still battling to restore the government of Earth to its proper state of blind obedience to the Hegemon, Ender's sociopathic brother Peter. All of that takes another four (or five, depending on how you count) volumes to settle.

Orson Scott Card & Aaron Johnston: The First Formic War Series (2012-14)

I can't speak to the events in the First (and now Second) Formic War Trilogies, as I haven't read them. All one can conclude is that any rumours of Ender's having actually ended hostilities with the Formics at the conclusion of Ender's Game appear to have been greatly exaggerated.

Nor has this series of spin-offs concluded as yet. And presumably there are many hardcore fans out there who are still anxiously watching this space ...

Orson Scott Card: The Tales of Alvin Maker (1987-2003)

Card's second major series is the alternate-history, American-frontier saga collectively labelled the (tall) Tales of Alvin Maker. Card's Mormonism comes through far more strongly in these books than in the Ender ones. Nevertheless, his vision of a North America half of which still belongs to the Native American tribes is a strangely inspiring one. And there's an infectious exuberance to (especially) the early volumes in the sequence which keeps you reading even as they become gradually more and more encumbered by plot and backstory.

There is still, apparently, one volume of tales to come, though I have my doubts about that. Card has a tendency to divide and subdivide his novels into they fill two or three volumes rather than just the one he originally promised. And his characters are so very, very talkative.

Orson Scott Card: The Homecoming Series (1992-95)

A good example of this is the series above, originally intended as a trilogy, which grew into a huge, sprawling, five-volume saga.

I think that if I knew more about The Book of Mormon (had read it, for instance), I might be better equipped to judge these books. It is, it seems, a 'Science-fictional" version of the major events in the Mormon scriptures, which may account for the extreme perversity of many of the characters' basic motivations.

The hero, Nafai, for example, seems almost infinitely long-suffering, and his evil, plotting brothers, Elemak and Mebbekew, almost impossibly villainous. There is a certain narrative drive which kept me reading, but it does seem to be intended for a more specialised audience than most of his other fiction.

C. S. Lewis: The Cosmic Trilogy (1938-45)

What, then, is one to conclude about Orson Scott Card? Ender's Game remains a fine novel. Many of his other novels are also well worth reading, too - particularly the 'Alvin Maker' series. I wouldn't myself say that his experiment of mixing Mormon themes with the matter of conventional genre fiction has been a particularly successful one, but then the same could easily be said of other such ideologically driven Speculative Fiction such as C. S. Lewis's Interplanetary trilogy, or even Charles Williams' theological thrillers.

So I find myself inscribing a tick in the "yes" column, despite my reservations about the endless blah-blah in (especially) his later books, and despite my nagging suspicions of a certain residual sadism and misogyny at the root of much of his fiction. Once again, the same could be said of many canonical authors, and this inference remains, in any case, a debatable one.

Orson Scott Card: Assorted Enderverse Comics (1938-45)

Orson Scott Card

Orson Scott Card
(1951- )

    The Enders Game Series:

  1. Ender’s Game. The Ender Quartet, 1. 1985. A Legend Book. London: Arrow Books Ltd., 1988.
  2. Speaker for the Dead. The Ender Quartet, 2. 1986. A Legend Book. London: Arrow Books Ltd., 1986.
  3. Xenocide. The Ender Quartet, 3. 1991. A Legend Book. London: Arrow Books Ltd., 1992.
  4. Children of the Mind. The Ender Quartet, 4. 1996. A Tor Book. New York: Tom Doherty Associates, LLC, 1997.
  5. Ender's Shadow. 1999. The Shadow Saga, 1. An Orbit Book. London: Little, Brown and Company (UK), 2000.
  6. Shadow of the Hegemon. 2000. The Shadow Saga, 2. An Orbit Book. London: Little, Brown and Company (UK), 2001.
  7. Shadow Puppets. 2002. The Shadow Saga, 3. A Tor Book. New York: A Tom Doherty Associates Book, 2003.
  8. Shadow of the Giant. 2005. The Shadow Saga, 4. A Tor Book. New York: A Tom Doherty Associates Book, 2006.
  9. First Meetings in the Enderverse. An Orbit Book. London: Time Warner Books UK, 2003.
  10. A War of Gifts: An Ender Story (2007)
  11. Ender in Exile (2008)
  12. Shadows in Flight. The Shadow Saga, 5 (2012)
  13. [with Aaron Johnston] Earth Unaware. First Formic Wars trilogy, 1 (2012)
  14. [with Aaron Johnston] Earth Afire. First Formic Wars trilogy, 2 (2013)
  15. [with Aaron Johnston] Earth Awakens. First Formic Wars trilogy, 3 (2014)
  16. [with Aaron Johnston] The Swarm. Second Formic Wars trilogy, 1 (2016)
  17. Children of the Fleet. Fleet School (2017)
  18. Ender's Way: short stories (2021)
  19. [with Aaron Johnston] The Hive. Second Formic Wars trilogy, 2 (2019)
  20. The Last Shadow. The Shadow Saga, 6 (2021)
  21. [with Aaron Johnston] The Queens. Second Formic Wars trilogy, 3 (tba)

  22. The Tales of Alvin Maker:

  23. Seventh Son. The Tales of Alvin Maker, 1. 1987. A Legend Book. London: Arrow Books Ltd., 1989.
  24. Red Prophet. The Tales of Alvin Maker, 2. 1988. An Orbit Book. London: Little, Brown and Company (UK), 2001.
  25. Prentice Alvin. The Tales of Alvin Maker, 3. 1989. An Orbit Book. London: Little, Brown and Company (UK), 2001.
  26. Alvin Journeyman. The Tales of Alvin Maker, 4. 1995. An Orbit Book. London: Little, Brown and Company (UK), 2001.
  27. Heartfire. The Tales of Alvin Maker, 5. An Orbit Book. London: Little, Brown and Company (UK), 2001.
  28. The Crystal City. The Tales of Alvin Maker, 6 (2003)
  29. Master Alvin. The Tales of Alvin Maker, 7 (tba)

  30. The Homecoming Series:

  31. The Memory of Earth. Homecoming, 1. 1992. Legend Books. London: Random House UK Ltd, 1993.
  32. The Call of Earth. Homecoming, 2. 1993. A Tor Book. New York: A Tom Doherty Associates Book, 1994.
  33. The Ships of Earth. Homecoming, 3. 1994. A Tor Book. New York: A Tom Doherty Associates Book, 1995.
  34. Earthfall. Homecoming, 4. 1995. A Tor Book. New York: A Tom Doherty Associates Book, 1996.
  35. Earthborn. Homecoming, 5. 1995. A Tor Book. New York: A Tom Doherty Associates Book, 1996.

  36. Women of Genesis:

  37. Sarah (2000)
  38. Rebekah (2001)
  39. Rachel and Leah (2004)

  40. The Empire Duet:

  41. Empire (2006)
  42. Hidden Empire (2009)

  43. The Pathfinder Series:

  44. Pathfinder (2010)
  45. Ruins (2012)
  46. Visitors (2014)

  47. The Mithermages Series:

  48. The Lost Gate (2011)
  49. The Gate Thief (2013)
  50. Gatefather (2015)

  51. Miscellaneous Novels:

  52. A Planet Called Treason [aka Treason (1988)] (1979)
  53. Songmaster. 1980 & 1987. A Legend Book. London: Arrow Books Ltd., 1990.
  54. Hart's Hope (1983)
  55. Saints [aka Woman of Destiny] (1983)
  56. Wyrms. 1987. A Legend Book. London: Arrow Books Ltd., 1988.
  57. with Lloyd Biggle, Jr.] Eye for Eye / Tunesmith. Tor double novel (1990)
  58. Lost Boys (1992)
  59. [with Kathryn H. Kidd] Lovelock (1994)
  60. Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus (1996)/li>
  61. Treasure Box (1996)
  62. Stone Tables (1997)
  63. Homebody (1998)
  64. Enchantment (1999)
  65. [with Doug Chiang] Robota (2003)
  66. Magic Street (2005)
  67. [with Aaron Johnston] Invasive Procedures (2007)
  68. A Town Divided by Christmas (2018)
  69. Lost and Found (2019)

  70. Short Story Collections:

  71. The Worthing Saga. ['Capitol' (1979); 'The Worthing Chronicle' (1982)]. A Legend Book. London: Random Century Group, 1991.
  72. The Folk of the Fringe. 1990. A Legend Book. London: Random Century, 1991.
  73. Maps in a Mirror. 1990. 2 vols. A Legend Book. London: Arrow Books Ltd., 1992.
  74. Keeper of Dreams (2008)

  75. Poetry:

  76. An Open Book (2004)

  77. For Children:

  78. Magic Mirror (1999)

  79. Non-fiction:

  80. Listen, Mom and Dad (1977)
  81. Ainge (1981)
  82. Saintspeak (1981)
  83. Characters and Viewpoint (1988)
  84. How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy (1990)
  85. A Storyteller in Zion (1993)
  86. Complete Guide to Writing Science Fiction: Volume One, First Contact (2007)

  87. Edited:

  88. Dragons of Light (1980)
  89. Dragons of Darkness (1981)
  90. Future on Fire (1991)
  91. Future on Ice (1998)
  92. Masterpieces (2001)
  93. The Phobos Science Fiction Anthology, Volume 1 (2002)
  94. The Phobos Science Fiction Anthology, Volume 2 (2003)
  95. The Phobos Science Fiction Anthology, Volume 3 (2004)
  96. Orson Scott Card's InterGalactic Medicine Show (2008))

Orson Scott Card: Ender's Game (1985)

Tuesday, May 03, 2022

James Hogg: Confessions of a Justified Sinner

Andrew Currie: Monument to James Hogg (St. Mary's Loch)

While I was living in Edinburgh in the late 1980s, a friend of mine, Martin Frost, and I were in the habit of driving madly around the countryside of Scotland in his tiny Mini in search of cups of coffee and chocolate cake - perhaps also in a vain attempt to evade the inevitable consequences of continued inattention to our studies ... "An element of pleasure-seeking there," as a cousin of mine, Roddie Macleod, remarked of a neighbouring farmer who'd been in the habit of going into Dundee from time to time to disport himself. If such a thing is possible in Dundee, that is.

On one of these expeditions, we happened upon St. Mary's Loch, and found the statue above, dedicated to the famed Ettrick Shepherd, James Hogg, but memorable mainly for the inscription on its base, the rather extravagant encomium:
He taught the wandering winds to sing
Since then I've discovered that that is the last line of his book-length poem The Queen’s Wake (1813), so perhaps it wasn't quite so vainglorious as I imagined.

I'm not sure if I'd read his novel The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner at the time. If not, it must have been shortly afterwards, because I remember that it had an electrifying effect on me. Why had I never heard of this novel before? It was every bit the equal of - possibly even better than - Stevenson's Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, and the sheer intensity and strangeness of the writing would be hard to match outside the works of De Quincey or even Edgar Allan Poe.

It does, in fact, bear a certain resemblance to such doppelgänger stories as Poe's "William Wilson" (1839) or Melville's "Bartleby, the Scrivener" (1853), though of course it long preceded them. The title may owe something to De Quincey's Confessions of an English Opium Eater (1821), but they have little else in common.

In 1947, in his introduction to a new edition of the complete, uncensored text of Hogg's novel, the Nobel prize winner for that year, André Gide, confessed that he had read 'this astounding book ... with a stupefaction and admiration that increased at every page'. So, just as in the case of Poe, it was largely the admiration of the French (Baudelaire and Mallarmé for Poe; Gide for Hogg) that first plucked these great writers from provincial obscurity and brought their work to the attention of readers everywhere.

As you can see in the bibliography below, the pruned and bowdlerised versions of Victorian editors have been succeeded by a complete, textually rigorous edition of James Hogg's Collected Works. Whatever form you read it in, though, The Confessions of a Justified Sinner is every bit as important a text in the Fantastic tradition as Potocki's Manuscript Found in Saragossa (1805-15) or Schiller's Ghost-Seer (1787-1789). Indeed, it rivals Frankenstein itself.

James Hogg: The Works of the Ettrick Shepherd (vol. 1 of 2: 1865)

It was therefore with a great deal of excitement that I came across a copy of The Works of the Ettrick Shepherd in Devonport the other day. Admittedly, it was in an edition "Revised at the Instance of the Author's Family, by the Rev. Thomas Thomson," which hardly inspires one with confidence in its textual integrity, but even this atmosphere of pious disdain for Hogg's "crudities" has its points of interest.

Hogg's reputation had suffered greatly from the caricatured version of him presented, under the name "the Ettrick Shepherd", in Noctes Ambrosianae, a popular series of feigned conversations which appeared in Blackwoods Magazine between 1822 and 1835. The Shepherd, a Scots-spouting buffoon, is generally upstaged by the more urbane "Christopher North" (Professor John Wilson - himself the author of most of the dialogues) and his friends "Timothy Tickler" (Robert Sym) and - occasionally - "The English Opium Eater" (Thomas De Quincey).

Hogg, who had little part in the concoction of most of these pieces, made no public comment on the matter. However (according to Wikipedia, at any rate) "some of his letters to Blackwood and others express outrage and anguish." Certainly this picture of him as "a part-animal, part-rural simpleton, and part-savant" coloured his reputation throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth century.

A chance remark by Hogg to Wordsworth describing the two of them as fellow bards was greeted with some disdain by the English poet. His 1835 "Extempore Effusion upon the Death of James Hogg" includes the following stanza:
The mighty Minstrel breathes no longer,
'Mid mouldering ruins low he lies;
And death upon the braes of Yarrow,
Has closed the Shepherd-poet's eyes.
However, the first two of these lines probably refer to Sir Walter Scott. Wordsworth's own notes on the poem say of Hogg: "He was undoubtedly a man of original genius, but of coarse manners and low and offensive opinions."

James Hogg: A Queer Book (2007)

All this patronising nonsense about his having somehow been a genius in spite of himself has hopefully now been laid to rest. Hogg is increasingly seen as a pillar of Scottish literature, in the tradition of Burns, Scott and Stevenson, as well as a profound influence on writers as diverse as George Douglas Brown, Alasdair Gray and Irvine Welsh.

For myself, I think that it was partly the fact that I was living right in the middle of the place where his novel is set which lent the book such an extraordinary atmosphere for me. I boarded in a Hall of Residence sited directly below Arthur's Seat, and sat on the edge of Salisbury crags reading Baudelaire on more than one occasion.

The scene in Hogg's novel where the narrator sees the approach of an extraordinary apparition (which turns out to be a version of the famous Brocken spectre) was therefore located right on my front doorstep.

Thomas Keith: The Grassmarket, Edinburgh (c.1850)

Nor has the rest of the city changed much since the nineteenth century. There's still the Old Town running down the Royal Mile from the Castle to Holyrood Abbey; the 18th-century New Town, with its Palladian squares and crescents, off to one side of it; and then all the Victorian infill housing shading off to the South. Such landmarks as the Cowgate and the Grassmarket remain pretty much as they were in Hogg's time.

It's strange for someone from the Antipodes to reside in so changeless a place, with the ghosts walking around right in front of you rather than drowned in a sea of new construction. Not restful, exactly, but somehow very satisfying to anyone with a strong sense of tradition.

If you've never read his novel, I envy you your first experience of it. Make sure that you choose the right text, though. The older editions of Hogg are quite unreliable. What you want is one based on the 1824 version - as most of them now fortunately are. It's not a case like Frankenstein where both texts, the 1818 one and Mary Shelley's 1831 revision, have their own points of interest. There's little evidence that Hogg had much - if anything - to do with the posthumous 1837 reprint of his novel, and (as Wikipedia puts it) "the extensive bowdlerization and theological censorship in particular suggest publisher's timidity."

James Hogg: The Works of the Ettrick Shepherd (c.1874)

Sir John Watson Gordon: James Hogg, The Ettrick Shepherd (1830)

James Hogg


  1. The Works of the Ettrick Shepherd: Centenary Edition. Revised at the Instance of the Author's Family, by the Rev. Thomas Thomson. 2 vols. 1865. With Many Illustrative Engravings. London, Edinburgh & Glasgow: Blackie & Son, 1878.
    1. Tales and Sketches
    2. Poems and Ballads: With a Memoir of the Author

  2. The Stirling / South Carolina Research Edition of the Collected Works of James Hogg. Series Editors: Ian Duncan & Suzanne Gilbert. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1995-2021.
    1. The Mountain Bard. 1807. Ed. Suzanne Gilbert (2007)
    2. The Forest Minstrel. 1810. Ed. P. D. Garside & Richard D. Jackson (2006)
    3. The Spy: A Periodical Paper of Literary Amusement and Instruction. 1810-11. Ed. Gillian Hughes (2000)
    4. The Queen's Wake: A Legendary Poem. 1813. Ed. Douglas S. Mack (2004)
    5. Mador of the Moor. 1816. Ed. James E. Barcus (2005)
    6. The Jacobite Relics of Scotland, Vol. 1: First Series. 1819. Ed. Murray G. H. Pittock (2002)
    7. The Jacobite Relics of Scotland, Vol. 2: Second Series. 1821. Ed. Murray G. H. Pittock (2003)
    8. Winter Evening Tales: Collected Among the Cottagers in the South of Scotland. 1820. Ed. Ian Duncan (2002)
    9. Midsummer Night Dreams and Related Poems. 1822. Ed. J. H. Rubenstein, Gillian Hughes & Meiko O'Halloran (2008)
    10. The Three Perils of Man: or War, Women, and Witchcraft: A Border Romance. 1822. Ed. Judy King and Graham Tulloch (2012)
    11. The Bush aboon Traquair and The Royal Jubilee. 1822. Ed. Douglas S. Mack (2008)
    12. The Three Perils of Woman: or; Love, Leasing, and Jealousy: a series of Domestic Scottish Tales. 1823. Eds David Groves, Antony Hasler, & Douglas S. Mack (1995)
      • The Three Perils of Woman, or Love, Leasing, and Jealousy: a Series of Domestic Scottish Tales. 1823. Ed. David Groves, Antony Hasler, & Douglas S. Mack. The Stirling / South Carolina Research Edition of the Collected Works of James Hogg. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1995.
    13. The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner: Written by Himself; With a Detail of Curious Traditionary Facts and Other Evidence by the Editor. 1824. Ed. P. D. Garside (2001)
      • The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner, Written by Himself: With a Detail of Curious Traditionary Facts and Other Evidence by the Editor. 1824. Ed. P. D. Garside. Afterword by Ian Campbell. Chronology by Gillian Hughes. The Stirling / South Carolina Research Edition of the Collected Works of James Hogg. 2001. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2010.
    14. Queen Hynde. 1824. Ed. Suzanne Gilbert & Douglas S. Mack (1998)
    15. The Shepherd's Calendar. 1829. Ed. Douglas S. Mack (1995)
    16. Songs by the Ettrick Shepherd. 1831. Ed. Kirsteen McCue & Janette Currie (2014)
    17. A Queer Book. 1832. Ed. P. D. Garside (1995)
    18. Altrive Tales, Featuring a ‘Memoir of the Author’s Life’. 1832. Ed. Gillian Hughes (2003)
    19. A Series of Lay Sermons: on Good Principles and Good Breeding. 1834. Ed. Gillian Hughes (1997)
    20. Anecdotes of Scott. 1834. Ed. Jill Rubenstein (1999)
    21. Tales of the Wars of Montrose. 1835. Ed. Gillian Hughes (1996)
    22. Highland Journeys. 1802-4. Ed. by H. B. de Groot (2010)
    23. Contributions to Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine, Vol. 1: 1817–1828. Ed. Thomas C. Richardson (2008)
    24. Contributions to Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine, Vol. 2: 1829–1835. Ed. Thomas C. Richardson (2012)
    25. Contributions to English, Irish and American Periodicals. Ed. Adrian Hunter & Barbara Leonardi (2020)
    26. Contributions to Scottish Periodicals. Ed. Graham Tulloch & Judy King (2021)
    27. Contributions to Annuals and Gift-Books. Ed. Janette Currie, Gillian Hughes (2006)
    28. Contributions to Musical Collections and Miscellaneous Songs. Ed. Kirsteen McCue (2015)
    29. The Collected Letters of James Hogg, Vol. 1: 1800–1819. Ed. Gillian Hughes (2004)
    30. The Collected Letters of James Hogg, Vol. 2: 1820–1831. Ed. Gillian Hughes (2006)
    31. The Collected Letters of James Hogg, Vol. 3: 1832–1835. Ed. Gillian Hughes (2008)

  3. Novels:

  4. The Three Perils of Man: War, Women and Witchcraft. 1823. Ed. Douglas Gifford. 1972. The Scottish Classics Series, 9. Ed. David S. Robb. Edinburgh: Scottish Academic Press, in association with The Association for Scottish Literary Studies, 1989.

  5. The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner, Written by Himself: With a Detail of Curious Traditionary Facts and Other Evidence by the Editor. 1824. Ed. John Carey. Oxford English Novels. 1969. London: Oxford University Press, 1970.

  6. The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner, with 'Marion's Jock' and 'John Gray o' Middleholm'. 1824, 1832 & 1820. Ed. Karl Miller. Penguin Classics. London: Penguin, 2006.

  7. Karl Miller: Electric Shepherd (2003)


  8. Miller, Karl. Electric Shepherd: A Likeness of James Hogg. London: Faber, 2003.

James Hogg: The Suicide's Grave (1895)